Monday, August 16, 2010

Don't Let Your Child Suffer with a Bad Teacher

From Bad Teachers, by Guy Strickland:

Since all of the advice in print was written by educators, not parents, the issue of teacher incompetence was rarely addressed. When it was, the parent was never offered guidance, just self-serving platitudes like, "Wait till next year ... Your child will catch up ... Your child can't change his teacher any more than he or she will be able to choose his boss in adult life ... Consider it a life lesson and endure." This is excellent advice if your goal is to protect the bad teacher, make life easier for the school administrators, and perpetuate the problem.

... Too often, when a child has a bad teacher, the parents do nothing at all. They assume the difficulty is a phase, or a temporary problem; they don't want the unpleasantness of a confrontation; they buy into what teachers have told them and accept the idea that their child is the problem; or they feel that they didn't discover the difficulty early enough and decide to hold on until next year. From an adult's perspective, a year flies by quickly; but a year is nearly 15 percent of a seven-year-old's lifetime. No wonder a year with a bad teacher seems like an eternity in hell to a child. Even a few months is too large a proportion of a child's life to spend adapting to unreasonable demands from an incompetent or unstable teacher, working without guidance or reward, or feeling too small or too inexperienced to protect himself effectively.

Nor is it ever a good idea to let the problem slide, to see if it will go away or get worse. While it is possible that the problem will go away on its own, it's impossible to guess how many straws it will take to break the child's back. How many times can he be called stupid before he believes it? How many times can she be punished before she decides that she might as well make the crime fit the punishment? How many times can he be driven to anger before he becomes an angry child? How many times must a child be labeled before she accepts the label?


  1. PsychMom says:
    Yeah, again I think there's the old problem of treating children as small adults and thinking, "ah heck it's just a'll help the kid toughen up". Adults can weather more adversity; children often haven't got the ego development to shrug it off...negative feelings goes straight to their heart and can be internalized. Do we really need to give them more reasons to hate learning and school?

    I do believe that children are incredibly resilient, but that does not mean they should be deliberately left in a miserable situation. I've had teachers that weren't good,... you're left sort of uninspired. But there was a year in high school when we had a teacher who was mentally ill. While I had immense respect for the man, his rants were intolerable and everyone quaked when he walked in the room because you didn't know what to expect. Was he going to be charming, or was the chalk going to fly? It was a group of students, though, who went to the principal, not parents. One of the striking features of the episode in my memory was the abiding support and defence this teacher got from other teachers. Some teachers thought we were complaining unjustifiably, others remained neutral.

    For elementary school, I don't think I would just sit on my hand for the year. Fortunately in a private school situation, I don't think it'll be an issue for us.

  2. Link to L.A. Times article,0,2695044.story?page=5&utm_medium=feed&track=rss&utm_campaign=Feed%3A%20latimes%2Fnews%2Flocal%20%28L.A.%20Times%20-%20California%20|%20Local%20News%29&utm_source=feedburner

    I've had teachers- in fact most of them- who doled out dribs and drabs of info, knowing full well they've got to stretch it out or the students will run through this years curriculum before Xmas break. Homeschoolers know this one well. No homeschool kid ever spends six hours a day on "curriculum" if they did, they'd be college level by twelve more often than not. I've had teachers who taught "Columbus sailed the world to prove it was round." I've had teachers who clearly did not like children. I went years without any, any science in school. But the worst are the teachers who treat children like curious little animals in a petting zoo. I am not an animal; I am a human being! Kids should have that message emblazoned on t-shirts as a uniform!

    And I've had the bitch before too. She might yell at you for making a math error. You can argue with her, if you're smart about it- but if you're dumb- watch out. The bitch might make many of the mistakes I've mentioned before but she never, ever sees a kid as a empty-headed defective puppy, EVER. The bitch is the one who reads Steinbeck and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Poe to the class. Because she knows you can understand it- She treats you like a person in that way.

    I'm remembering middle school- Ages 10 up.

  3. SCF, that article is all over the web. I'll post a link to it. I don't know why links don't work in the comments -- I wish they would.

  4. Yea, that article- Many teachers I've read on the web think it's unfair in the assessments of individuals- and they may be right. I haven't thought it all through yet.
    But the case of the teacher whom everyone, herself, students, principal, parents believed was "a very effective teacher" meaning the state test should reflect her "effectiveness," was indeed not very effective.

    So would you say, "Aha! Bad teacher?" Because frankly, I do.

    She can be kind, smart, witty, intuitive, engaging... and still fail if she does not impart knowledge, to those ready, willing and able to receive it, as she promised. Verdad?

  5. SCF, I agree with you. I also find that certain people inspire a kind of personality cult, which has very little to do with their job effectiveness. The principal at our local elementary school had a great reputation, but treated me (and by extension my daughter) with contempt. The teacher who taught accelerated math, and was a big part of the reason we left the public schools, is well-thought-of, but I think some of that is just because he gets the bright kids, so people think he must be good.

  6. SCF, that logic works only if (a) the test measures what's important, and (b) as you point out, the student is ready, willing, and able to learn the material. As to (b), if the subject is required, you have to wonder about the willingness of the students to learn the material. Moreover, not every teacher is going to have equally teachable kids.

    The bigger question, though, is (a) -- that is, what the goals of education should be. Instead of choosing goals and then trying to evaluate our teachers' success in achieving them, it seems like we're deciding to limit our goals to only those that can be easily assessed on a standardized test. In other words, we're letting assessment drive the goals, instead of the other way around.

    Sure, in a high school trigonometry class, you can probably assess how effective the teacher is by how well the students later test. But there are a lot of things I think are more important to my kids' education that their ability to do trigonometry. I'd happily sacrifice trigonometry to get kids who can ask good questions, who are curious about the world around them, who take the initiative to teach themselves about something they're interested in, and who know enough not to believe everything they see or are told, just to name a few. Just because those things are hard to test doesn't mean we shouldn't prioritize them. If the school produces kids who know the quadratic equation but are dumb enough to believe everything they hear on Fox News (or pick your own villain), we're in bad shape.

    So I guess I agree that we should look for effective teachers -- but that we should think a lot more about what we want them to be effective at.

  7. I think it's a good idea to be skeptical of the logic that kids should be left in bad situations because it will teach them how to deal with bad situations. It just too easily becomes an excuse for not remedying things that can and should be remedied -- I mean, you can justify outright child abuse with that logic.

    I think that before you apply that logic to a child, you should ask whether you would apply it to an adult, or to yourself. It's the rare adult who would say, upon discovering that his lawyer or plumber or doctor is incompetent, "But I'll stick with him uncomplainingly -- it will build my character!"

    We all face choices about whether to complain about situations we're in or just to suck it up, but we usually don't decide based on whether it will be "good for us" to experience adversity for no good reason. It's more a matter of picking our battles, and it probably makes more sense to talk with kids about it that way.

    Sorry for all the commenting, FedUpMom -- I'm just getting caught up after two weeks away . . .

  8. Chris, that's kind of a slippery slope. (justifying enduring "bad" situations will lead to justifying enduring child abuse.. Though there is a very real phenomena of learned helplessness- wherein something similar does happen) I agree a school year is too much time to spend with a bad teacher...
    But deciding a teacher is "bad" because one's child doesn't like her style or countenance isn't logical either.
    And as in many things- there would be definite downsides, definite unknowns to making a drastic change, like pulling your child out of a demanding class.

    Just two of about fifteen I can think of off the top of my head-
    Upside, kid knows he can count on mom to help him out. Downside- Kid gets strong tacit message, parent believes kid is not up to the challenge and must be rescued, that which is perceived as real becomes real in it's consequences.

  9. SCF, I can only speak from my own experience. I took my daughter out of an accelerated math class that was wrecking her confidence. In hindsight, my only regret is that I didn't take her out sooner. There was no way she was learning resilience by being stuck in that situation.

  10. Chris said:

    Sorry for all the commenting, FedUpMom -- I'm just getting caught up after two weeks away . . .

    No apologies necessary! I love reading comments whenever they come through.

  11. I'm not really disagreeing, SCF. It just depends on how bad the situation is. But I do think that that "adversity is good for them" argument often just ends up being a rationalization for passivity in the face of things that really ought to be complained about.

    FedUpMom -- I sure am impressed by how much energy and time you put into this site. I can barely manage a post a week on my blog . . .